My Week in Manga: June 17-June 23, 2013

My News and Reviews

Last week was the Skip Beat! Manga Moveable Feast, hosted by Laura at the wonderful shoujo manga blog Heart of Manga. For my contribution to the Feast, I reviewed the first omnibus volume of Yoshiki Nakamura’s Skip Beat! I had read the beginning of Skip Beat! before, but had forgotten how much I had enjoyed the series. It’s a tremendous amount of fun. Earlier in the week I reviewed Sakyo Komatsu’s award-winning earthquake disaster novel Japan Sinks. It’s been forty years since the volume was first released in Japan and it is still a chilling account.

As somewhat of a bonus, over the weekend I also reviewed Dale Lazarov’s and Amy Colburn’s short collection of gay erotic comics, Manly. Out of all of Lazarov’s collaborations, Manly happens to be my personal favorite. It’s not manga, but I do think it would appeal to readers and fans of hard yaoi and bara and erotic comics in general.

While working on my review of Manly, I discovered that Bruno Gmünder, its publisher, will be releasing Gengoroh Tagame’s Endless Game in December. Earlier this year PictureBox published The Passion of Gengoroh Tagame, which was incredible, so I’m pretty excited that more of Tagame’s work is being released in English. In other licensing news, Sublime Manga has announced the acquisition of Kou Yoneda’s collection NightS, which I’m looking forward to reading, as well as additional volumes in previously acquired series.

Elsewhere online, Manga Bookshelf has published the results from its recent reader survey. I find this sort of data fascinating, so I was very glad that they decided to share it! Finally, over at Books from Japan, Matt Alt contributed the article A wild monster chase: yokai and Haruki Murakami. Alt is one of the co-creators of the marvelous Attack! series, which I love. Surprisingly enough, I actually haven’t read much Murakami, but I still found Alt’s article to be fascinating.

Quick Takes

Atomcat by Osamu Tezuka. I was completely unaware of Atomcat until it and Triton of the Sea were tacked on to Digital Manga’s Kickstarter project for Unico. Of the three works I was least interested in Atomcat, but the volume turned out to be a fun and fluffy read. (Pun entirely intended.) Atomcat is a remake of sorts of Tezuka’s Astro Boy. The basic premise is that, in a bizarre twist of fate involving space aliens, a small kitten is granted the same powers as Astro Boy. He also faces some of the same personal dilemmas that Astro Boy had to deal with. Atom, the kitten, uses his new powers to protect his human family and to foil the evil schemes of other cats. It’s really quite cute.

Attack on Titan, Volume 5 by Hajime Isayama. While the artwork in Attack on Titan is improving very slowly, it’s still easily the weakest element in the manga. But as bad as the art can be, I continue to find the manga as a whole to be oddly engaging and at times even compelling. In addition to introducing more characters, the fifth volume reveals a little bit more about the titans and a little bit more about the society in which the humans are living. I didn’t find this volume to be quite as dark or oppressive as some of the volumes that came before it. The fear and terror caused by the titans is still there and very real, but the story has left the battlefield and turned to focus more on the societal changes and political maneuverings that have been brought about as a result.

Brave Story: A Retelling of a Classic, Volumes 1-5 by Yoichiro Ono. The Brave Story manga is a very loose adaptation of Miyuki Miyabe’s fantasy novel of the same name. The manga series reached twenty volumes in Japan before its conclusion, but only five volumes were ever released in English. While many of the major story elements and characters are the same as those found in the novel, the manga is actually quite different. Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to be quite as good, either. Although Brave Story is a seinen series, Ono makes excellent use of shonen tropes which is very appropriate for the story. Brave Story in all of its incarnations is also heavily influenced by fantasy role-playing video games.

Junjo Romantica, Volumes 1-6 by Shungiku Nakamura. I’m torn over Junjo Romantica. The boys’ love series features four related storylines/couples: Junjo Romantica, Junjo Egoist, Junjo Minimum, and Junjo Terrorist. I like the narrative structure and how the stories intertwine with each other. I also like how almost everyone is somehow involved with the publishing industry or studies literature. But the only pairing that I really like and the reason I read Junjo Romantica is Egoist. (Although Minimum is admittedly adorable.) The relationship of Junjo Romantica‘s main couple is not at all a healthy one. Usagi is abusive and extremely controlling. It makes me uncomfortable how this has been romanticized. Fortunately after the first couple of volumes this does improve.

My Week in Manga: August 30-September 5, 2010

My News and Reviews

I was away on an extra-long-weekend-mini-vacation this past week. I didn’t do much but read, play video games, and enjoy the outdoors of northern Michigan, including walking across the Mackinac Bridge—the third longest suspension bridge in the world. So, not really much news-wise other than my posting schedule is going to be a little off while I catch up.

Before I left, I did manage to get my review up for the first volume of Saemi Yorita’s Brilliant Blue. Also posted this past week was my first Bookshelf Overload, featuring my empty wallet and acquisitions for August.

Quick Takes

Challengers, Volume 1-2 by Hinako Takanaga. Challengers is Takanaga’s debut manga series. I am quite fond of Takanaga’s work, particularly her art, so it’s interesting to get to see her early style. Challengers is a cute, romantic, boys’ love comedy. I like the characters, and while the main couple (Tomoe and Kurokawa) is endearing, it’s really the secondary characters that make the series so much fun. My favorite is probably Isogai, Kurokawa’s meddling office-mate and best friend, although Tomoe’s violently homophobic brother Souichi is pretty fantastic as well.

GTO: Great Teacher Onizuka, Volumes 8-14 by Tohru Fujisawa. I took a huge stack of GTO with me up north and it was pretty much all I read while I was up there. So far, the series and the anime have stuck pretty close together, but it’s nice that a few chapters and story arcs unique to the manga are starting showing up. I really do enjoy Onizuka’s crazy antics and enthusiasm for what he calls being a teacher. He may be a little unorthodox to say the least, but his students definitely learn something from him even if it’s not on the standard curriculum.

Brave Story: New Traveler (PSP) I recently read and enjoyed Miyuki Miyabe’s Brave Story so I figured I’d give one of the video games based on the story a try. Brave Story: New Traveler is your pretty standard random-encounter RPG. It has a nice fighting system with animations unique to each attack. However, the monsters can get repetitive (as can the battle music). The thing I really enjoyed is how the game incorporated elements and characters from the original story—you even have the opportunity to play Wataru and his friends at one point. The main quest is very similar to the book’s plot but different enough to be interesting.

Brave Story

Author: Miyuki Miyabe
Translator: Alexander O. Smith
U.S. publisher: Viz Media
ISBN: 9781421527734
Released: November 2009
Original run: 1999-2001 (various regional newspapers)
Awards: Batchelder Award

Miyuki Miyabe’s novel Brave Story was originally published in two volumes in Japan in 2003. The English edition, released by Viz Media’s Haikasoru imprint in 2007, is complete in one volume and received the Batchelder Award from the American Library Association for best English translation of a children’s book originally published in a foreign country. The translator in this case being Alexander O. Smith (who also did a great job with his translation of All You Need Is Kill). The story has undergone several adaptions, including a series of light novels for younger readers, a manga series, an anime, and appropriately enough even a few video games. I first encountered Brave Story through the manga, also written by Miyabe and illustrated by Yoichiro Ono. After reading the first volume I knew that I needed to read the source material. And so it was that Miyabe’s hefty novel, over eight hundred pages, made its way to the top of my reading list.

Wataru Mitani is a typical fifth grader—he’s an average student, enjoys playing video games (the Eldritch Stone Saga is his favorite fantasy series), and gets along well with most of his schoolmates, especially his best friend Katchan (even though his mother doesn’t approve). At least that is until the aloof Mitsuru Ashikawa arrives as a transfer student. Wataru would be more than happy to be friends, but Mitsuru doesn’t seem to care about anyone. Suddenly, everything starts to fall apart in Wataru’s life when his father unexpectedly decides to leave him and his mother. But then he stumbles upon the world of Vision which seems like something out of one of his video games. Mitsuru, whose family situation is even more tragic than Wataru’s, has also found Vision. The two of them become rival Travelers in the fantasy world, given the opportunity to complete a dangerous quest and by doing so change their and their family’s destinies in the real world.

Brave Story is surprisingly dark and deals with some heavy issues such as divorce, death, and suicide. As if problems in the real world weren’t enough, Vision faces religious war and genocide. But even so, Brave Story has a very positive message even if it is hard to accept—realizing that hate and anger are very important parts of being human and shouldn’t be pushed away and hidden but embraced. Yes, things are bad but you have to learn to accept all of who you are in order to change anything. Reality hurts, and Miyabe doesn’t pull her punches. Wataru’s experiences are authentically heartbreaking and he has to deal with circumstances that no one should have to. It would have been nice to have seen a bit more of Mitsuru’s story, but ultimately Brave Story is Wataru’s tale.

The book almost seems to have a split personality—the real world is emotionally wrenching while the fantasy world is almost comforting in comparison. But, it works. Wataru’s reality slowly starts to intrude upon his fantasy until it can’t be ignored. Personally, I found the real world elements more compelling than the fantasy elements, but everything is pulled together nicely by the end. The majority of Brave Story takes place in Vision and while important the section felt a bit long to me and lacking in urgency until close to the end. But overall, Brave Story is quite good and is a story that adults and mature younger readers can both enjoy alike. I, for one, am very glad that it’s available in English.